I always looked at horror the same way I did couscous. I was aware of its existence, I knew people that were really into it, but it just never seemed like it was for me. A part of that was down to my older sister showing me the original It when I was 8 years old, which led to my refusal to go to the bathroom alone for far more years than I’d care to admit, and then, well into adulthood, forcing my then girlfriend to hide all of the clowns in her Grandma’s house before I would enter it.
I’ve never even seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist or Dawn of the Dead. I had a myopic view of what horror films actually consisted of: they existed simply to scare the shit out of the viewer, and as an easily spooked fat guy who is never more than scare’s-breadth away from a heart attack anyway, nothing that I thought I knew about the genre made me want to delve any deeper.
It was during an interview ahead of the 2015 Mayhem Festival that Steven Sheil, one of the festival’s organisers, said something that really affected the way I thought about the genre. “The two main topics of horror films are ‘what happens when we die?’ and ‘why do people hurt each other?’” he told me, “If you can’t see a place for those two themes in the world of today, I cannot understand you.” It wasn’t until I attended my first Mayhem screening that year that I realised what he meant, and that the horror genre was far wider and more eclectic than my previously parochial viewpoint had allowed me to believe. Horror films could be funny. Horror films could be insightful. Horror films could be heartbreaking. There were horror documentaries and animations, and even the films that were more traditionally terrifying were an incredible experience because of the atmosphere.
And what an atmosphere. Partly due to the nature of the films selected, but mostly owing to the inherent likeability of the festival’s co-curators, Sheil and Chris Cooke, the atmosphere within those screenings is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a cinema. The type of people that Mayhem attracts seem to get exactly what it’s about; Chris and Steven have seemingly built up a relationship of trust over the years where their audiences knows that, even if they’re not digging a particular film, they’ll enjoy the experience of being there anyway.
So if, like me, you’ve avoided Mayhem because you didn’t think you liked horror, give it a chance this year. They’ve got a Christmas-themed horror musical in Anna and the Apocalypse, a Japanese zombie comedy set in a WWII bunker in One Cut of the Dead and of course, Mandy, the beautifully batshit looking Nicholas Cage vehicle. I personally can’t wait to see what new experiences Mayhem 2018 has in store - just as long as it isn’t couscous.
Mayhem Film Festival runs from Thursday 11 - Sunday 14 October. Tickets are available now from the Broadway Cinema Website or the box office.